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The Spirit of Individualism American Transcendentalism  1. Transcendentalism is a form of philosophical idealism (Platonic). Basically, the means of living.

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Presentation on theme: "The Spirit of Individualism American Transcendentalism  1. Transcendentalism is a form of philosophical idealism (Platonic). Basically, the means of living."— Presentation transcript:

1 The Spirit of Individualism American Transcendentalism  1. Transcendentalism is a form of philosophical idealism (Platonic). Basically, the means of living your life according to…  2. The transcendentalist rises above the lower animalistic impulses in life, as well as the cultural restrictions of society, and moves from the rational to a spiritual realm.  3. God or the Life Force in the universe can be found everywhere, thus no need for churches or holy places.

2 The Spirit of Individualism  4. God can be found in both nature and human nature. God is not super human being but a spirit in us all.  5. Every person possesses the "inner light" of God, which must be nourished to sustain us.  6. Every person possesses "intuition," an essentialist understanding of right and wrong (moral action).

3 The Spirit of Individualism  7. Culture and society tend to corrupt our intuition, establishing other determiners for morality and truth (church, government, peer groups, etc.) that deny us our own truths.  8. Thinking helps us to actualize the authority of our intuition. Thus, we feel what's right/wrong; then we know what's right/wrong.  9. Learning can also aid intuition and connect us to nature, resulting in the drive for self-culture-- learning new ideas and skills.

4 The Spirit of Individualism  10. However, the past, in terms of learning and knowledge, should not limit or define who we are today. The material world is influx; the spiritual realm (fixed) manifests itself in different ways over time. Hence, emphasis on the here and now.  11. We should live close to nature, for it is our greatest teacher. Nature is emblematic, and understanding its "language" can bring us closer to God. Poets know this, and they write in the language of nature, helping us to connect our lives to the spiritual realm. They replace the priests and ministers of the church.  12. Individualism lies at the heart of Transcendentalism. Every individual needs to be self-reliant and thus not depend upon others if he or she is to be free and to live life fully. Self-empowered is attained by defying the authority of "empty" conventions and senseless rules.

5 The Spirit of Individualism  13. The Bible was written for people in the past and may offer some transcending lessons. But it is not the word of God, or the ultimate authority on how to live your life.  14. Jesus had God in him too, like all of us, but he was not God. In many ways, though, he taught valuable lessons and lived a transcendent life, which should be studied. The miracles of the Bible are doubted in terms of uniqueness; the universe around us everyday is full of the miracles of nature.  15. Evil (dark) is the absence of good (light), but good is more powerful. The law of compensation means that good will always arise from evil.

6 Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”  1. "Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string." Divine Providence runs through each of us, taking the shape of intuition--the "primary wisdom." The world has a transcendent destiny, and we are "noble clay plastic under the Almighty effort."  2. "Whoso would be a man must be a non- conformist." You are sacred, and so is your mind. However, society retards your growth, inhibits you, and prevents you from fulfilling your destiny. If you live "after the world's opinion," or what people think, your life will become "an apology." The past is the past; you're living now in the future--everything is new and different.

7 Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”  3. "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." Following the rules made by others may make you safe from the displeasure of others, but it isn't fulfilling. If you do this, you're NOT living your life but the life of others. Don't let the hobgoblin of conformity scare you into compliance. "Always scorn appearances." Insist on yourself; never imitate."  4. "Be it known unto you that henceforward I obey no law less than the eternal law." Defy authority, including governmental and religious, that is not in accord with your intuition. Wow, a dangerous idea.

8 Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”  5. Self-culture: This is the basic principle for all the Transcendentalists. It means many things but foremost, two things: 1. Don't depend on others. Learn how to do things so that you aren't owing and in the control of others. 2. Knowledge of the world around us is the best means for our understanding ourselves in the universe--self-aware and self-reliant. Thoreau will spent 2 years at Walden Pond showing us self-culture in action.

9 Emerson's "The Poet" Basic Principles  1. The poet is representative man: Composite of all of a culture's people.  2. The poet is the interpreter, the sayer, the namer (Adam), the language maker for a democratic people (reflects call for a "national" American literature). Words are actions that guide us and connect us in life.  3. Nature is a picture language, symbolic, emblems. Words are signs of natural facts that attach us to spiritual world.

10 Emerson's "The Poet" Basic Principles  4. Nature is the healer of our suffering caused by a divided self--alienated from yourself. The return to nature is our salvation. Poets put us in contact with the timeless, eternal truths.  5. The poet is a liberating god, who replaces ministers and priests.  However, Emerson says at the end that he looks "in vain for the poet whom I describe." Remember these things when we get to Whitman.

11 Henry David Thoreau: Walden "Economy" Thoreau's intention in writing Walden was to "actualize" some of the basic principles of Transcendentalism. Two of those principles are self-culture and self-reliance--concepts related to Emerson discussed above. Thoreau went to Walden to learn how to live: "Economy" Thoreau's intention in writing Walden was to "actualize" some of the basic principles of Transcendentalism. Two of those principles are self-culture and self-reliance--concepts related to Emerson discussed above. Thoreau went to Walden to learn how to live:  "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.“  Nature is his schoolhouse for developing and exercising the habits of self-culture. However, he writes Walden not as a blueprint for others to follow blindly but as an example of how others may find their own way. He does not want to make copies of himself but instead inspire originals. Furthermore, his audience is certainly not the happy, spiritual fulfilled individual who loves her job and is living an authentic life. Thoreau is directing his views toward those "men who live lives of quiet desperation." This is one reason why his book became so popular in the industrialized age of the 20th century.

12 Henry David Thoreau: Walden  --The Divided Self: Thoreau recognizes two aspects of human nature in the search for selfhood: 1. Spiritual (flows from God through nature) 2. Material: Contact with the self through worldly interaction (material needs). In his chapter, "Economy," he tells us that our life is an economy, measurable in quantity and quality, and connected to the number of days we live. We "spend" our life constantly, and the questions are: What's the return? What do we gain from living? Are we living the life that we want for ourselves or someone else's life? Are we living a spiritual existence?

13 Henry David Thoreau: Walden --Freedom from materialism:  Our material needs are many, perhaps too many. Materialism is a system of controls that rules our lives. Thoreau divides those needs into four categories and then tries to show that the demands made by these needs control us. We must work to make the money to support this materialism. If we reduce our dependency on materialism, we gain freedom to explore who and what we are (self-culture). That freedom requires only one principle: SIMPLIFY-- get rid of the useless baggage that holds us down. Sure, own things but don't let them own you. In addition, he tells us to learn to be self-reliant so that we don't have to owe others for our material existence.

14 Henry David Thoreau: Walden --The principle of simplify applied:  1. Food: Much of Walden concerns growing and eating food--our first and strongest need. The foodstuff that he raises supports the "expense" of his whole two-year experiment. It's the basis of his "economy." He raises much of his own food to support the notion of self-reliance. His eating is simple (no expensive meat) so that he need not labor too much or too hard to acquire it.  2. Shelter: This is our biggest expense--one that puts us in debt for a generation or two. Why bother with ownership that controls your life? Instead, he builds a simple 10 by 15 hut to demonstrate that it keeps him out of the elements--it serves his need for shelter--and didn't cost much. Others labor most of their lives to support their "mansion" in Orland Park.  2. Shelter: This is our biggest expense--one that puts us in debt for a generation or two. Why bother with ownership that controls your life? Instead, he builds a simple 10 by 15 hut to demonstrate that it keeps him out of the elements--it serves his need for shelter--and didn't cost much. Others labor most of their lives to support their "mansion" in Orland Park.

15 Henry David Thoreau: Walden  3. Clothing: All you need are two sets of clothing and one pair of shoes. Clothing serves two purposes: warmth and modesty. The rest is "changing style," which never ceases to keep you buying and using that VISA card at Field's (Macy's?). Is that Coach purse a real need or a fanciful desire to show off?  4. Fuel: Thoreau relates this to food--the body's fuel. We use it to keep warm and cook our food. Today, we use it for everything in the form of electricity. Without it, we'd collapse. Walden Pond had trees that were plentiful. What would Thoreau say about Peoples' Gas? What would you do in February in Chicago if the gas was suddenly turned off? Burn the furniture, Mabel? Solar or thermal power is self-reliance. The point that Thoreau makes is that these needs can be reduced in our lives; we can be become less dependent on the sources that satisfy these needs. We can simplify our lives, and we can also learn how to do things ourselves in order cut down the expense that they demand from our living economy.

16 Henry David Thoreau: Walden --The principle of a creating God and man in Nature:  Thoreau tells us that "God himself culminates in the present moment, and will never be more divine in the lapse of all the ages. And we are enabled to apprehend at all what is sublime and noble only by the perpetual instilling and drenching of the reality which surrounds us." In other words, God is not at the ends of time-- Alpha/Omega or creation/judgment--but right here and now. He is all about us and in us too, doing what he has always done-CREATING. Thoreau is reflecting on Emerson's concept of nature "in the common sense," as 1. Nature, that which is unchanged by man, God's creating; 2. Art, human creation that changes what God created into new things. Since we are god-like, created in his image, we carry on his work on earth.  Thoreau tells us that "God himself culminates in the present moment, and will never be more divine in the lapse of all the ages. And we are enabled to apprehend at all what is sublime and noble only by the perpetual instilling and drenching of the reality which surrounds us." In other words, God is not at the ends of time-- Alpha/Omega or creation/judgment--but right here and now. He is all about us and in us too, doing what he has always done-CREATING. Thoreau is reflecting on Emerson's concept of nature "in the common sense," as 1. Nature, that which is unchanged by man, God's creating; 2. Art, human creation that changes what God created into new things. Since we are god-like, created in his image, we carry on his work on earth.

17 Henry David Thoreau: Walden Thus, 1. God creates in the macro-cosmos (the stars, the rivers, the leaves on the tree, etc.) 2. Man creates in the micro-cosmos (the houses, the tools, the babies, the medicines to cure, etc.) We are co-creators of the world. Okay? What happens when we humans co- create something that ain't so nice?

18 Henry David Thoreau: Walden --Thoreau: "I was determined to know beans."  In order to demonstrate self-reliance and self-culture, Thoreau supported his enterprise at Walden by raising beans. Some he ate; some he sold to support himself. He spent time cultivating his beans through his labor, but Thoreau wants us to see that through his "work" he was actually growing closer to nature. Since God is immanent (in all things in nature), raising beans was a way of coming to know how the spiritual realm operates in the material--a form of active worship. In a real sense, this is a model for all authentic work in life-- work that connects you to the world both spiritually and materially (eating).

19 The Railroad  For the Transcendentalists (and others), the railroad came to symbolize industrialization and subsequently the loss of spiritual connection and control in life. The railroad was the ultimate machine; not restricted to urban centers of commerce and manufacturing, it invaded the "garden"--seemingly destroying the tranquility and peace of mind needed to live an authentic life. People came to be regulated by "railroad time," and the loudness and pollution it created seemed inescapable.

20 The Railroad  Walden Pond was bordered on the south by the newly constructed Fitchburg spur that connected Concord to Boston; it ran a hundred rods away from Thoreau's hut in the woods. Throughout Walden, Thoreau refers to the railroad in ways that display his dislike for it. He tells us: "We do not ride on the railroad; it rides on us." In "Sounds," he describes the whistle that screams and the clouds of smoke that looks like a comet. "We have constructed a fate, an Ahropos [Greek fate that cuts the thread of human life], that never turns aside," he adds, "But the bell rings, and I must get off the track and let the cars go by."

21 The Railroad  Thoreau was aware that technological progress was not going to be stopped: He gets off the track. However, given his belief that in the principle of co-creation (God creates in the macro-cosmos/ man in the micro-cosmos), he had to resolve his hatred toward this human creation. He does this in a mystical way in "Spring," as he watches "the forms which thawing sand and clay assume in flowing down the sides of a deep cut on the railroad." This scene represents the rebirth of life in spring, but it also assumes the contours of creation itself as he stands "in the laboratory of the Artist [God] who made the world and me." The railroad embankment offers a place for the potential for continued creation; its potential for good cannot be read at this point for Thoreau. It may look "excrementitious in its character" now, but it is still a part of the creative process of the universe in which "There is nothing inorganic." Good may yet come from the railroad. Perhaps. He offers us a curious open-ended resolution to the conflict in thought that the railroad evokes in him.

22 Emerson's Two Parties, plus one  In summing up his age, Emerson said that his fellow humans fell into two categories or parties when it came to be influenced by history: --The Party of Hope: Mainly the Transcendentalists who believed in the present and looked to the future. Humans were innocent by nature; human nature was essentially "good." Adam's sin was forgotten; the human potential was boundless. Self- improvement and self-culture would create even greater growth. NATURE was spiritual salvation.

23 Emerson's Two Parties, plus one  --The Party of Memory: Mainly those who recalled the sinful past of humans. Humans were depraved by nature; human nature would turn to evil if not controlled. Adam's sin was still on us; the human potential was limited by the past of sinfulness. God was the only source of spiritual salvation.

24 Emerson's Two Parties, plus one  The critic, RWB Lewis added a third party to Emerson's division --The Party of Irony: Mainly those who held "a tragic optimism" about the future and a sense of the tragic collision to which innocence was liable. They recognized the value of hope but believed that memory would overcome the growth of human potential. They understood the freedom offered by "nature" but they also saw nature as cruel and indifferent to human suffering--alien often. The memory of the past would not be overcome by hope alone. They were the believers who doubted their own beliefs, who were always uncertain about what truth was; they were Hawthorne and Melville.

25 Credits  Notes taken from: Dr. Augustus Kolich, English Professor, Saint Xavier University

26 Activity: You don’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need…(150 words min.) Make a list of ten things (or less, or more) that you absolutely need to survive today. After making your list, explain the reasons why you need those items in a well-developed journal entry. Do you really “need” those items? What purpose do they serve? Could you do without some of them? Explain your choices.Make a list of ten things (or less, or more) that you absolutely need to survive today. After making your list, explain the reasons why you need those items in a well-developed journal entry. Do you really “need” those items? What purpose do they serve? Could you do without some of them? Explain your choices.


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